Music Center garage gets automated, now takes credit cards
The above sign has been greeting patrons who park in the Music Center’s garage, but don’t be alarmed: the new automated parking system debuting Thursday at the downtown venue will apply only to weekday daytime users. Parking for performances, like the shows themselves, will still involve the human factor. Contrary to what the sign says, attendants will be on duty.
The main change for performing arts patrons who use the eight-level, county-owned garage beneath the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum is that they'll now have the option of paying the $9 fee with a credit or debit card.
For concert-goers using the garage beneath Walt Disney Concert Hall, parking remains cash only.
Nick Chico, Los Angeles County’s manager of parking services, said Wednesday that the 1,400-car garage under 135 N. Grand Ave. is the first in a series of county-owned parking facilities that will be automated; the Disney Hall garage probably won’t be re-equipped for some years to come.
The biggest advantage, he said, is an expected end to revenue “leakage” –- a euphemism for when the human factor introduces a degree of larceny. Based on industry-wide experience, Chico said, the county’s initial $1 million investment in equipment, software and changes to garage structures and electronics promises to yield a 6% to 15% increase in parking receipts. The county keeps 81.78% of parking proceeds, with the rest going to Classic Parking, the company contracted to run the garage.
Until 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, garage users -– primarily people with business in the nearby courthouses and County Hall of Administration -– will no longer pay as they enter. They’ll zip right in and park. But when it’s time to leave, before getting back into their cars they’ll use one of four newly installed machines to pay what they owe. The machine will spit out a receipt to present at the exit gate, enabling a bar to rise and sending each vehicle on its way.
This, of course, would be a recipe for bedlam if attempted with multitudes of autos trying to exit all at once after a performance (in theory, as many as five events with a combined audience of more than 8,500 people can let out at more or less the same time). So performance patrons will continue to pay as they enter, with actual human beings continuing to conduct or enable each transaction.
Chico said that cream-colored metal devices formally called “pedestals,” but known in the parking business as “ticket-spitters,” have been installed at each entrance driveway. Standing on newly installed islands beside each ticket-spitter will be an attendant who will insert one keying device into the machine if the transaction is going to be cash (with the attendant then taking the money and making change in the usual way), and another key if the driver wants to pay with a credit or debit card.
The driver will then swipe his or her card through the machine, and it will spit out a receipt ticket. Each time an attendant inserts a key, it will trigger software that records each transaction, giving the county accurate and easy-to-sift data for the number of vehicles and amount of money coming into its garage.
When events end, the exit gates will stay up and cars will leave freely. But Chico said patrons should hold onto the receipt tickets they get on the way in, because anyone wanting to leave early will find the exit bar down, and will need to feed the ticket into an automatic device to make it go up.
Waits to get into the garage are not expected to be longer, he said, because the additional time required to swipe credit cards and wait for an entrance bar to rise should be offset by drivers’ lessened need to fumble for cash or put away change.
While officials are confident the new system will work like a charm, Chico said, plans call for extra garage workers to be on hand for events during the new system's break-in period, answering questions and taking care of unexpected problems.
For those who don’t want to have anything to do with parking machines, there’s always valet parking at $23 a pop -- not counting tip. Or the subway -- $5 for an all-day pass -- which stops a couple of blocks downhill.
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: A sign alerts Music Center garage users about its new automated system. Credit: Sherry Stern/Los Angeles Times